Cassandra Stokes has been a Newk’s Eatery franchisee for just two and a half years, and she is already making restaurant history with the 101-unit chain. Stokes’ Sekots Too LLC franchise was chosen as Newk’s Eatery’s Franchisee of the Year from among more than 30 owner-operators due to high performance in a variety of operational categories, including zero leadership turnover, and the highest overall guest response in the chain’s 12-year history. Stokes was presented the award during the Newk’s Eatery Convention this past April.
Following a 26-year career in the military—which included serving as the E-9 senior enlisted leader for the Center for Naval Leadership in the reserve southern region—Stokes redirected her education and training in hospitality management to franchise ownership. After investing in a successful Wingstop franchise in Nacogdoches, Texas, in 2007, Stokes stumbled upon the Newk’s Eatery brand years later while on a family trip in Longview, Texas, sparking a desire to bring Newk’s to her hometown. In 2013, she opened Nacogdoches’ first Newk’s Eatery and is now planning to open a second unit in Lufkin, Texas, before year’s end.
“At Newk’s, we are in a period of rapid growth and more focused than ever on equipping investors and operators with the tools they need to ensure their success in both pioneer and established markets,” says Keith Moody, vice president of franchise operations. “Cassandra and her team are a prime example of how an unwavering commitment to hospitality and high operational standards can build business and earn lasting customer loyalty.”
Franchisee of the Year contenders were judged across seven categories: restaurant operations, food safety evaluations, guest survey results, ticket count trends, as well as sales trends at the counter, in catering and in Newk’s Grab-N-Go section. Stokes ranked among the top five of all franchisees in five of the award’s seven categories and among the top 10 in the remaining two categories.
“Our mission is to delight all our guests all the time,” Stokes says. “Although I am passionate about what I do, this award is about my people—the leadership at the management and hourly partner levels. Our ultimate goal is to deliver happiness—both through great food and a great attitude that floods out into the community.”
Stokes also attributes much of her restaurant’s success to the advice received by Newk’s seasoned team of franchise business consultants. She cited their help specifically in meeting operational standards, lowering cost of goods by minimizing waste and enforcing portion control, as well as keeping labor investments below industry benchmarks. However, Stokes still places a high priority on labor investment, recognizing that a positive, hospitable team is key to establishing an equally warm and welcoming restaurant environment.
“Because you can’t teach employees to be happy, you must ‘hire hospitality’ and take care of your leaders—that’s the magic,” Stokes says.
Last month, more than 30 Newk’s Eatery franchisees converged with operators and vendors at the Hilton Sandestin Resort in Destin, Florida, for a three-day bi-annual convention. This year’s conference featured hospitality experts from the Disney Institute, operation and marketing best practices workshops and franchise networking events. The Franchisee of the Year was announced at the closing reception.
Newk’s Eatery currently has 101 locations in 13 states and plans to expand to more than 200 units by 2019.